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Regarding the Sorry State of Mountain Biking in Portland

Introducing my friend's son to mountain biking, at what is balefully one of the closest parks available to us - a full hour away in the Columbia Gorge.

Introducing my friend’s son to mountain biking, at what is balefully one of the closest parks available to us – a full hour away in the Columbia Gorge.

My favorite outdoor activity in the world is mountain biking.  However, this past summer, in moving to Portland, Oregon – the “Bike Capital of the USA” – I’ve basically had to give up mountain biking almost entirely.

It’s one of the most bizarre contradictions imaginable about this otherwise fine city, and is one of the most incomprehensible things I tell my friends back East when they ask me about the wonders of moving to the Pacific Northwest.

With the city of Portland’s 2011 acquisition of the River View Natural Area and subsequent March 2015 outlawing of mountain biking in the Area’s borders, there is now zero single track open to mountain bikers within 40 minutes of the city center.

The Fact that it’s “Portland” Makes it Worse

Now, this bizarre lack of trail rights wouldn’t be so notable if this were Kansas City or Indianapolis or Miami.   But in the Portland area, bike culture is everywhere, and views of majestic mountains and forested hillsides are everywhere, serving as a non-stop reminder that trails are out there, beckoning to be ridden.

But the evil joke is, that you have to go nearly all the way to Mt. Hood, a good way up the Columbia River Gorge, or a fair distance out toward the Coast in order to approach any decent riding trails.    For someone like me who lives in Lake Oswego and works in Beaverton, there are zero options for after-work rides.

Even Washington, DC is better for Mountain Biking

I moved to Portland last summer from Washington, DC – a notoriously bad city for mountain biking.  As so much of the city’s park space are National Parks, they (by default) don’t allow biking except on paved trails.  However, the city’s many other natural spaces offered plenty of ways to get an MTB fix.  I lived adjacent to Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland, a 500-acre park with miles of easygoing trails which allowed me to rapidly introduce my two small children to the beauty of the forest and the joys of just letting it rip on singletrack.   I credit the easy access to bike-friendly dirt with getting my kids both mountain biking by the age of 4.

I found plenty of other options – Pimmett Run Park in Virginia, the Wakefield Mountain Bike park and Cross-County Connector trail through Fairfax County, VA, etc – the metro area was just littered with ways to get yourself onto dirt and go – or even use dirt as a viable avenue for commuting!

And if you were to make a list of the top 50 US cities for mountain biking, DC would probably be like #35 or something.  Never mind these 10 cities which actually are GOOD for mountain biking, unlike our fair town.

By Ostracizing Mountain Bikers, You’re Cutting  Off Our Parks’ Most Active Advocates

Due to the fact that mountain bikers, by and large, know that they have to work hard to acquire and retain access to good trails, they end up as the most active and involved advocates I’ve ever seen for proper trail usage, maintenance, and community volunteerism.

Case in point – my last job had me traveling regularly to Knoxville, Tennessee – a metro area about a third of the size of Portland, nestled against the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee.   Within a 15 minute drive of my company’s HQ were three separate high-quality mountain bike parks, (Concord, Ijams and Haw Ridge) each of them well-marked and extremely well-maintained by community volunteers.


One of them, Ijams Nature Park, is right across the river from downtown Knoxville, 5 minutes from the city center.   A 300-acre park reclaimed from what was earlier a marble quarry, Ijams has over 40 miles of multi-use trails, and an epic 12-mile mountain bike loop which is far and away the best after-work ride I’ve ever had.

And weekdays, the parking lots of each of these parks were packed with riders, out appreciating the woods.

And that is the entire point.  Nearly every last one of the people I worked with would ride or run the trails of these parks regularly.  But more importantly, each would also routinely volunteer their time on weekends or on corporate volunteerism days to get out into the woods and do trail maintenance, signage upgrades, build bridges and berms, repair stream crossings, and otherwise make the trails beautiful, usable and sustainable ways for people to enjoy the outdoors.

Which is precisely why I’m baffled at Portland’s steady campaign to ostracize mountain bikers – a group that I’d say is arguably the most active resource they could have in terms of volunteer labor for creating and maintaining trails.

If you Want a Park Protected, Get People to Use It

The genius of our country’s National Parks system lies in the fact that the most vocal and active protectors of a natural area are those folks who actually USE it.   If our lovely city really does care about our great tracts of natural spaces, let them be used by those groups most passionate about keeping them open and natural.

My kids are serious about wanting to MTB.

My kids are serious about wanting to MTB.

The one of the biggest reasons that I’ve spent so much time with my kids out on trail, is that I want them to grow up with an appreciation and therefore a responsibility for our beautiful forested areas.   You can’t expect anyone to be responsible for something they can’t touch.

I hope the city of Portland gets the point – if you’re really are serious about protecting our natural spaces, don’t alienate what could be your biggest ally.



1 thought on “Regarding the Sorry State of Mountain Biking in Portland”

  1. I moved to Portland from Salt Lake City/Park City, Utah so was severely disappointed with the amount of single track trails available here – which is none at all. I’ve done many of the rides to which you related. The problem for me is the drive is at least an hour each way which means it takes better than 3 hours to do an hour ride. I also live in Beaverton. The hour drive home is guaranteed to have your muscles stiff and in need of complete stretching! And unfortunately I’ve had to do all those rides and drives solo.

    There has recently been some movement towards rallying for the cause as in the protests at the Riverview Area and Forest Park. I hope to be able to join in future events and to become involved in getting more single track in the Portland area.

    It seems anti mtb advocates are only interested in prohibition and not education i.e. trail rules and how to share the trails. Trail etiquette is something you and I are very aware of so along with advocating for more trails and trail access we also need to make it known that we are responsible trail users. We know pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way. 10 mph or “walking speed” when overtaking people on foot; the up hill rider has right of way, etc. To me it seems that the local mountain bike culture here has not educated their members enough in the basic trail rules, rider responsibility and in encountering other users. Maybe that comes from the strong freeride/downhill culture here maybe not. Just an observation right or wrong.

    I want to advocate for more trail access and more trail construction along with educating all trail users in proper etiquette. I agree with you that mountain bikers bring the love of the outdoors and the energy to built and maintain trails as much as any other user group maybe even more. I’ve seen it and experienced it. Let’s bring it to Portland. Thank you for the fine article. You’ve expressed what I’ve been feeling since moving here three and a half years ago. If you know of any avenues where I can be involved in advocating for more singletrack in Portland and bringing a responsible reputation of the mountain biking community along with it I would appreciate your input.
    Thank you again!
    Bill Peck

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